Screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick On ‘Zombieland: Double Tap,’ Being Rejected By Joe Pesci, And ‘Deadpool 3’

The story of Bill Murray’s cameo in the original Zombieland has reached somewhat legendary status, for the most part because of all the actors who passed on that cameo before Murray agreed to participate. It includes names like Sylvester Stallone, Mark Hamill, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and, yes, Joe Pesci. (Joe Pesci!)

So, it was here, while talking to Zombieland: Double Tap writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (who also wrote the first film, even though the marketing is really pushing what the work they did on Deadpool), that we did a deeper dive into just how Joe Pesci would have fit into the Zombieland universe (they wrote him a part for the first movie and the second movie) and the pretty great response they received back from Pesci’s representatives.

Reese and Wernick also give us an update on a third Deadpool movie, which seems like it’s been in limbo since Disney completed its Fox purchase. But, this update actually seems fairly positive. Then again, Reese and Wernick waited ten whole years to make a second Zombieland, so the wait on a third Deadpool so far is nothing compared to that.

I can’t believe this movie exists. It’s been so long.

Rhett Reese: Yeah, you and I both. So, when’s the next one going to be? I don’t know, 16 years?

Paul Wernick: Oh God, we’ll hopefully be dead by then.

So, what year did you give up? Where you thought, well, this is obviously never happening?

Wernick: Well, we wrote several drafts right after the first movie. And so at that point we jumped into the Deadpool universe, that was 24-7 job for five or six years.

Reese: So we never gave up…

Wernick: I gave up.

Reese: There were dark times…

Wernick: I gave up.

Reese: I mean, the studio did research and they found out that of all their franchises, people wanted to see a sequel to Zombieland the most. But there’s this need to say, to some degree, it’s like, “Hey, it’s from the director of Venom.”

Yeah, I noticed that.

Reese: It’s not, “the director and writers of Zombieland.”

Is there’s some animosity there?

Wernick: No, not at all.

Reese: We joke because it’s like, obviously we’re all the people who did Zombieland. Literally, the exact same, everybody.

In the first one, Bill Murray is the big surprise. Correct me if I’m wrong on this, but I think you wanted Mark Hamill and it didn’t work out? And then you get Bill Murray? Was there anything like that this time where it’s like, “Oh we really want this person and didn’t work out”?

Wernick: Well, we wanted Bill Murray this time and we got Bill Murray.

Reese: It worked out. What you find in success, those calls become much easier. Like in Deadpool 2, Ryan Reynolds would pick up the phone and it would be like, Celine Dion, you want to do this? Yeah, Brad Pitt? You want to do it?

Wernick: Matt Damon, sure.

Reese: It was like, who do we ask next? The Pope? I mean, who would say no at this point? And so when we came to call Bill Murray it was like, is it going to be as hard as last time? And thank God it wasn’t. He was like, “Yeah, of course I want to do it. Let’s do it.” So that was awesome.

Wernick: But you’re right. The story is, and it’s a true story that we went through draft after draft of the first one with different actors: Mark Hamill, Jean-Claude Van Damme, The Rock, Joe Pesci.

Joe Pesci?

Reese: Yeah, then Sylvester Stallone.

Wernick: Matthew McConaughey had signed on at one point, and then backed out.

How would have Joe Pesci fit into the original?

Reese: Well, in the original version we wrote it for Patrick Swayze. And Patrick Swayze got sick and was unable to do it, which was awful. So we had to go searching for others, but Patrick Swayze was a zombie, not he was alive and pretending to be a zombie. He was actually a zombie. And so the Joe Pesci version we wrote, he was zombie Joe Pesci. And then it was Bill Murray who came in and said, “You know what? I love it, but I want to have more to do.” So we went back to the drawing board and thought, well, what if he is alive just is pretending to be a zombie hiding out? And then that’s what became what you saw. Ironically, we also wrote a part for Joe Pesci in Zombieland 2.

What? Really?

Wernick: We wrote that draft about, what, nine years ago?

Reese: Yeah, we had a scene on a golf course where Bill Murray was playing golf with Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, and Harold Ramis. And the three of them were trying to convince Bill to be in Ghostbusters 3 and he was reluctant. And Bill was pissed off because, who was playing golf in the foursome ahead of him very slowly? Joe Pesci. So, Bill Murray hits the drive into Joe Pesci, basically past him. Joe Pesci is really mad, turns around, and is upset. So, they all hate Pesci.

Did you actually get a response one way or another from Pesci?

Wernick: Our producer, Gavin, reached out to his agent or manager. I can’t remember. And Joe, at that time, wasn’t acting anymore. We hadn’t seen him for a long time, so that was one strike against us. The other strike was our producer goes, “It’s kind of a small part and we’re wondering if Joe would be kind enough to read it?” And his representative sent back, “There’s no such thing as small parts, only small money.” Just one of the all time classics.

How many times do you think he’s used that line?

Wernick: Like a billion. Yeah.

With the Disney purchase of Fox and Deadpool, are you in the loop at all? Or is it up in the air?

Wernick: We are in the loop. And the plan is to keep Deadpool in his R-rated universe. I think Disney knows what it has in Deadpool and how special it is, and unique, and I think they’ll let us continue to play in that sandbox. And the hope moving forward beyond that is that we get to bring in some MCU toys along the way. And that’s where we’re at. And Deadpool lives in our head on a daily basis. We wake up thinking about it and go to bed dreaming about it. So, you know, we have to land on the right idea. We’re always in touch with Ryan Reynolds. He’s a good friend of ours. We have many projects with him. And so the subject comes up often. And once we land on that one idea that we all get excited about, I think it’ll be off to the races.

You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.